Think about the last time you burned your food while cooking. You wouldn't want to eat that, would you? Probably not. And yet there are plenty of people who enjoy eating their food either charred or blackened. People burning their food on purpose? Why would they do that? Well, charring and blackening are actually great cooking techniques that can help you enhance the flavors of the dish you are preparing when done correctly. However, it's important to note that charring and blackening are two distinct methods and it's important to understand the difference in order to get the best results.
Though charred and blackened foods may look similar on the outside, they taste wildly different. Both techniques ride the line between food being cooked to perfection or burnt to a crisp, however the key difference is that blackened food is always accompanied by a delicious blend of herbs and spices while charred food is strategically cooked to bring add a smokier and robust flavor to the dish.
Charring can be accomplished simply by grilling because pretty much anything will char if left near an open flame long enough. You can also char foods by roasting, broiling, and even cooking things on the stovetop. Charring isn't about burning your food so badly that it's all carbon and bitterness, but rather it's all about intentionally burning food just enough so it caramelizes and builds a complex flavor. Charring works best when applied to foods that have a natural sweetness to them, like corn, sweet potatoes, and peppers. The slight bitterness of the char brings out the sweetness of those foods and enhances the experience of eating them.
Over the years, people have raised concerns over the safety of eating charred foods, mainly because some believe they can cause cancer when consumed in high quantities. The charring process releases a chemical in the food called acrylamide, which is a known carcinogen in the industrial world. Granted, acrylamide appears in much smaller quantities when it's in food rather than coal mines. Though food scientists are still researching the matter, a 2015 data review concluded that "dietary acrylamide is not related to the risk of most common cancers." Good news for foodies everywhere!
Want to try your hand at charring food? These recipes are a good place to start.
In need of a show-stopping side dish for your next cookout? This charred broccoli salad will have everyone at your party raving.
Brussel sprouts are one of those foods that taste 100% better when charred or roasted. We love this recipe because the garlic aioli adds a little extra zest.
Charred corn is delicious on its own, but when you add in the seasonings of Mexican Street Corn, it becomes legendary.
Blackening is a bit different than charring. It is a cooking technique that is commonly associated with cajun cuisine. Blackening was popularized in the 1980s when Chef Paul Prudhomme wanted to replicate the style and taste of char-grilled foods in restaurant kitchens. Now, nearly forty years later, you can find blackened fish and chicken dishes on restaurant menus across the country.
Blackening is all about the seasoning, which usually consists of salt, pepper, thyme, oregano, chili pepper, garlic powder, and onion powder. You can either make your own blackening seasoning at home or buy it pre-blended at the store. To blacken a piece of meat, you start by dipping it in melted butter and then cover it in blackening seasoning. Then you cook your meat in a very hot cast-iron skillet until it's done. The burnt-like appearance of blackened piece of meat comes from the butter charring on the cast-iron skillet. This butter crust keeps the chicken or fish from drying out while its being cooked.
Like charred food, blackened food also brings up health concerns. The smoke from cooking the meat at such a high heat is believed to release acrylamide, the same chemical in charred food, into blackened food and cause cancer. But again, like charred food, those claims are not related to the risk of most common cancers. However, you should be mindful that since butter is used in the preparation of blackened foods, it will probably be higher in calories and fat.
Check out these recipes if you want to try out your hand at blackening foods.
Blackening and chicken go together like peanut butter and jelly. Blackened chicken alfredo is always a top choice.
Name a better duo than blackened salmon and mango salsa. I'll wait.
Spice up your next Taco Tuesday with these blackened shrimp tacos!